Sarah Whalen, Special to Arab News
Sunday 7 March 2004
Last Update 7 March 2004 12:00 am
WASHINGTON, 7 March 2004 — Gen. John Abizaid, the Pentagon’s most senior commander in Iraq, declares it “possible” that Iraq could explode into civil war.
Where’s he been? The civil war is well under way.
Perhaps the Pentagon forgot American philosopher George Santayana’s warning, that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
And repeating it we are.
Americans in Iraq are repeating our own civil war, a carnage-ridden conflagration that raged from 1861 to 1865, leaving six hundred thousand Americans dead. And similar to Iraq, the initial, most obvious cause was ideological, if not completely religious-the North and South’s opposing positions on slavery’s sinfulness. The national question in 1860 was whether the US government would extend the right of slavery to land owners in newly acquired US territories.
Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln endeavored to appear neutral. But within 40 days of his election, southern states seceded. Civil war commenced, and ended only after Southern infrastructure, including more than two-thirds of crucial rail roads, was massively destroyed and many key southern cities burnt to the ground. Plantations were so ravaged that it took 15 years for southern agriculture to reach pre-war levels.
In 85 years, America slid from its glorious 1776 Revolution to a crippled nation. Racism replaced slavery. National unity was physically restored, but deep regional animosities remain. And full equality for African-Americans took another hundred years.
In the 21st century’s information age, things happen faster. Iraq has bounced from being tyrannized, to invaded, to occupied, to internally besieged, in barely half a year. But just as with its own civil war, the United States has set the stage for Iraq’s internal strife to drag on for decades, even centuries.
At the heart of America’s misguided policy is the destruction of Islam’s fundamental social fabric, the traditional family. Not the Western, gender-anonymous “family in all its forms,” but the traditional, heterosexual unit linked, in the Middle East, to an intricate web of other families forming complex kinship and tribal alliances.
Democracy stresses the power of the individual, whereas tribalism stresses the power of the larger, extended group. Islam, ideally, combines and streamlines both these powerful forces in a unique harmony.
Present US policy impedes what needs to become a uniquely Iraqi process if it is to succeed at all. The destruction of the family and tribe, with nothing substantial to replace it, threatens to plunge Iraq into a quagmire of instability that may well prove intractable.
And there is the immediate matter of street safety. Iraq’s Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Husseini Al-Sistani rightly complains that Americans have not done enough to provide security — particularly, not tightening border patrols or properly preparing Iraqi police.
But Dynacorp, a private security agency that reportedly trained Bosnian police, is now training Iraqi police because the Pentagon can’t find the time. US Armed Forces’ Judge Advocates General is too busy re-formatting Iraq’s Shariah courts and planning constitutional conventions to fit Western models of what the U.S thinks Iraqi society should be. VIPs like Bremer and Halliburton executives reportedly are protected not by US troops, but by private security outfits like British Global Risk, composed of hired Fijian paramilitarists, Gurkhas, and, allegedly, ex-SAS veterans.
US Marines may now be patrolling the streets of Haiti — another example of interventionist failure, but Iraq’s streets are being increasingly policed by a motley, potentially deadly combination of paid soldiers of fortune — mercenaries, private religious militias, and bodyguards for any and all who can afford them.
The Geneva Conventions and rules of war prohibit mercenaries and privatization for many good reasons, but one stands out to prevent post-invasion civil wars in which the combatants would not be subject to Congressional oversight or military courts-martial or even military laws, but only to the laws and police forces of the country in which they are present. And post-conflict, laws and police are in tremendous disarray.
The UN passed innumerable resolutions condemning these practices during Africa’s independence wars. It would be wise to study these now.
Bush and Bremer blame Iranian and foreign “freedom fighters” as well as Al-Qaeda and fanatical opportunists for Iraq’s civil war. But wasn’t the war’s initial inception conducted by outsiders?
Imagine if the US Civil War had been conducted by France or Great Britain, the world powers of their day. Imagine if, postwar, outside powers had dictated to Americans what form their government and national laws would take.
Funny. In 1776, Americans fought to avoid just such a tyranny. Santayana, who warned against repeating the past, defined fanatics as people who had lost sight of their goals and still redoubled their efforts. In Iraq, that’s not just the Shiites, Sunnis, or even Wahhabis.
We have met the enemy, and he is us.